Wireless Home Security 101 – Why Two-Way Voice Is Old News

Posted by , , at 10:00 am

When we launched FrontPoint, I spoke with prospective customers every day – over time, thousands of you. The questions ran the full gamut of alarm technology, and since we were introducing 100% wireless and cellular monitoring, plus interactive features and even video services, these were often long calls. Looking back, I must have addressed just about every alarm question multiple times, with one notable exception: two-way voice. I think the two-way topic only came up once or twice in those thousands of calls, because outside the alarm companies themselves, few people even know what two-voice is, or how it works.

What is Two-Way Voice?

Two-way voice is an alarm system feature that was introduced when almost 100% of home alarm systems used a standard phone line to communicate the alarm signal. The feature allowed a monitoring station operator to communicate with the subscriber using a speaker and microphone built directly into the alarm system keypad. With these “old school” systems, the alarm system “seized” the phone line so the control panel could dial out to the monitoring center to send the alarm signal. Since the home phone line often remained engaged while the monitoring center was trying to call the home to verify an alarm, the monitoring center could get a busy signal – and would send the police, even if there was no need. The results: false alarm fines, unhappy subscribers, and alarm companies looking for a solution. Two-way voice solved the problem – until the world changed.

How We’ve Outgrown It

Remember, when two-way voice was “hot,” there was no VoIP (think Vonage), cell phones were used primarily in cars, and monitoring centers only had one number to call – the home phone. Any technology that could reduce false alarms was considered a good thing, but the real beneficiaries were the alarm companies themselves. And today two-way voice is less relevant than ever: here are just a few reasons:

  • People are getting rid of land lines at a tremendous rate – roughly 700,000 lines a month (see my blog on this topic).
  • Two-way does not work over VoIP, and only with special equipment over a cellular connection – and the best systems today rely on cellular monitoring, because it’s the safest and most reliable method of alarm communication.
  • There is far less dependence on the home phone line for alarm verification, since monitoring centers now require two numbers (and one of them is almost certain to be a cell number, if not both). This means the phone line “contention” issue has virtually disappeared.
  • Most monitoring centers charge an alarm company more for two-way voice monitoring – and that cost is usually passed on: to you, the subscriber.
  • Most burglaries happen during the day when you are less likely to be home – which makes two-way voice (in those cases where it does make a difference) even less relevant.

In other words, this is a feature that once had its day, but the alarm industry has moved on. I used to recommend this feature strongly – fifteen years ago. Today’s systems, especially those sold by FrontPoint, are safer, smarter, simpler, and more affordable, and use technology that renders old solutions unnecessary. As the leader in interactive, wireless home security, we’re proud to bring you the features that really make a difference. That’s the FrontPoint way!

Comments (10)

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  1. Graham

    Two way voice should allow the alarm system to dial your personal mobile / cell phone – you can then have a two way conversation with whoever is at home to confirm things are ok or to scare any criminals away.

  2. Silly_Me

    The lack of two-way voice is one of the main reasons I am leaving Frontpoint. My children and I *are* home during the day – when bad things usually occur – so it’s ridiculous to say that two-way voice in not relevant because you assume people don’t stay home during the day. Lots of people are at home during the day, including retired folks who would probably love the added security of a two-way voice feature. In addition, I like knowing that my children can speak directly to an agent over the two-way voice feature if the alarm accidentally goes off when I am away from the house. They simply give the agent our family password, and we’re good to go. I don’t have to worry about receiving a phone call while I’m out & about, wondering whether or not there is a true emergency at home. If the agent comes through the speaker, and the password is given, then all is well. I truly do not believe this feature is antiquated in any way, and I’m not sure that you have given a good enough argument for not offering the service.

  3. RealJ

    I live in a verified response county and the the police dont come to your home unless you have a two way voice intercom. : ( In the case of a real fire, medical emergency, or break in I definately want someone checking immediately on the situation, plus it allows the police to listen in right? I find it very strange how dismissive this view is despite its obvious value and how imperative it is for there to be ANY value to the system in a county with Verified Response.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks, RealJ, for your comment. Verified response is a tricky area, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Fortunately, there are only a few jurisdictions in the entire US that require verification of an alarm before they will respond – and FrontPoint does business in pretty much every one of them. In the jurisdictions that require an alarm to be verified, there are usually several (not just one) methods o0f verification that are acceptable to local police before they will respond to a home alarm. The most common is using a trained professional from a guard response company to physically visit the house and determine if there is an intrusion – and they call the police if so. Video can also be used, although not in all jurisdictions, and it’s not foolproof. If you don’t see anyone on the camera, does that mean no burglar is there? I have never heard of a jurisdiction where the police insist on two-way voice verification, since most alarm systems (the great majority) do not have this feature, and many cannot have it added. he police would never be listening in anyway, since it is the monitoring company that does that, and then reports to the police. Here again, if the monitoring center cannot hear a burglar, does that mean the burglar is not there? As for fire or medical emergency, those are not issues that require verification: the fire trucks or ambulance can certainly be dispatched without them. If what you say is true, then no home without a two-way voice system could expect a fire alarm dispatch, and that is clearly not the case. You may want to check with your local jurisdiction and get a printed copy of the ordinance regarding verification requirements. Thanks again.

  4. RealJ

    I live in a verified response county and the the police dont come to your home unless you have a two way voice intercom. : ( In the case of a real fire, medical emergency, or break in I definately want someone checking immediately on the situation, plus it allows the police to listen in right? I find it very strange how dismissive this view is despite its obvious value and how imperative it is for there to be ANY value to the system in a county with Verified Response.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks, RealJ, for your comment. Verified response is a tricky area, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Fortunately, there are only a few jurisdictions in the entire US that require verification of an alarm before they will respond – and FrontPoint does business in pretty much every one of them. In the jurisdictions that require an alarm to be verified, there are usually several (not just one) methods o0f verification that are acceptable to local police before they will respond to a home alarm. The most common is using a trained professional from a guard response company to physically visit the house and determine if there is an intrusion – and they call the police if so. Video can also be used, although not in all jurisdictions, and it’s not foolproof. If you don’t see anyone on the camera, does that mean no burglar is there? I have never heard of a jurisdiction where the police insist on two-way voice verification, since most alarm systems (the great majority) do not have this feature, and many cannot have it added. he police would never be listening in anyway, since it is the monitoring company that does that, and then reports to the police. Here again, if the monitoring center cannot hear a burglar, does that mean the burglar is not there? As for fire or medical emergency, those are not issues that require verification: the fire trucks or ambulance can certainly be dispatched without them. If what you say is true, then no home without a two-way voice system could expect a fire alarm dispatch, and that is clearly not the case. You may want to check with your local jurisdiction and get a printed copy of the ordinance regarding verification requirements. Thanks again.

  5. rmdsmr

    thanks for sharing this wonderful post

  6. rmdsmr

    thanks for sharing this wonderful post

  7. Alan

    I would still like two way voice… IF it didn’t add much to the monthly charge, which it almost certainly would… “much” for me is probably more than about $5/month extra.

    It is also nice for medical emergencies, etc. but then, there are plenty of stand-alone services that can handle that need.

    I think you guys have probably made the correct decision regarding this, at least for now. Still, if the economics of it ever make sense, two-way voice would be a nice feature to have. It’s not like it would have to come at the expense of any of the advantages you mentioned (except price… for now, less so in the future hopefully).

  8. Alan

    I would still like two way voice… IF it didn’t add much to the monthly charge, which it almost certainly would… “much” for me is probably more than about $5/month extra.

    It is also nice for medical emergencies, etc. but then, there are plenty of stand-alone services that can handle that need.

    I think you guys have probably made the correct decision regarding this, at least for now. Still, if the economics of it ever make sense, two-way voice would be a nice feature to have. It’s not like it would have to come at the expense of any of the advantages you mentioned (except price… for now, less so in the future hopefully).